If you want to make one healthy change in your diet starting today, start by evaluating how much fiber you’re getting in your diet. Why? Because many of us struggle to consume the recommended daily amount of fiber we should be getting in our diets. Plus, dietary fiber has so many wonderful health benefits and you can find fiber in a variety of foods. Foods that naturally contain fiber are fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts and whole grains. You can also get additional fiber from products like cereal or breakfast bars that have been fortified with fiber.
If you’ve heard about fiber before, you probably know that it can be helpful for a healthy digestive system. However, the benefits of fiber go way beyond preventing or relieving constipation. There are basically two types of dietary fiber –soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber slows the digestion of carbohydrate and can be beneficial for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels especially for individuals with diabetes. It’s also known for helping reduce LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which is known as the “bad cholesterol” that can cause heart disease. Insoluble fiber helps move things along in your digestive system, which can help prevent or relieve constipation symptoms by bulking up the stool. Another benefit of consuming fiber at each meal or snack is that fiber can help keep you fuller longer. Fiber-rich meals or snacks can create the sensation of fullness, which can be beneficial if you’re trying to lose weight or even maintain your current weight.
It’s important to pay attention to your daily fiber intake because many of us do not consume the recommended amount of fiber. In fact, the Institute of Medicine recommends that women ages 19-50 consume 25 grams of fiber per day and males should consume 38 grams of fiber per day. After the age of 50, that number is reduced to 21 grams/day for women and 30 grams/day for men. If you’re searching for the amount of fiber on a nutrition facts label, first locate carbohydrates on the nutrition facts label. You will find the amount of carbohydrates located near the bottom of the label. Fiber will be listed directly underneath carbohydrates because fiber is considered a form of carbohydrate. When comparing items with a nutrition facts label like bread, cereal, or breakfast bars, you should select the item with at least 2-3 grams of fiber per serving. You can also compare the amount of fiber to the percent daily value on the food label. If the percent daily value of that food item is 20 percent or greater, then that food item is a good source of fiber. If it’s below 20 percent, then that food item might not be the best source of fiber. There are several food and nutrition apps available that will track your nutrition and fiber intake, but this food calorie calculator is a quick way to locate fiber content in foods.
Introducing more fiber into your diet should be done slowly and gradually. If you only consume 10-15 grams of fiber each day, try to add 3-5 grams of fiber each week until you reach the recommended daily amount for your age and gender. This will allow your digestive system to adjust and, hopefully, avoid any uncomfortable gas or bloating.
Amber Pankonin MS, RD, CSP, LMNT is a registered dietitian and licensed medical nutrition therapist based in Lincoln, NE. She works as a nutrition communications consultant, freelance writer, food photographer, and adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. Amber shares her love for food and nutrition at Stirlist.com, an award-winning website, focusing on healthy, easy recipes for the busy cook. Amber serves on several boards including the Nebraska Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Nutrition Entrepreneurs Dietetic Practice Group, and also cofounded a group to motivate female entrepreneurs in her town. You can follow her on Twitter @RDamber, Instagram, Pinterest, or connect with her on Facebook.